These words repeat a theme spoken over the centuries. Apostles Matthew, Mark and Luke all used similar words 2,000 years ago when writing chapters of the bible. National leaders and patriots, not the least of which include President Abraham Lincoln and Patrick Henry, used these exact words. Henry reportedly used them in his final speech before his death.

We’ve been warned over the ages, not by prophets of doom but by some of the wisest men to ever walk this planet, that division can destroy the foundations of family, church, state or nation. Can anyone deny that our nation is now divided, not by race, religion or ethnic background but by raw, contemptuous politics?

There will always be differences in America that evolved as a melting pot of world cultures. But differences brought richness of culture to our shores and a wealth of ideas for democracy. America started as an experiment to create more personal freedom than had ever been experienced in the world. However, today’s political climate suggests that many of our political leaders have forgotten or abandoned the values that made this nation great.

Competition for political power and dominance has split America down the middle. We are no longer united — and the potential consequences ought to scare us all.

Let’s be clear, democracy requires political process. The problem is not process but those who abuse it. Simply stated, the lack of mutual respect exhibited by many political leaders toward those with whom they disagree, most often the opposing political party, has undermined Americans’ confidence in their government.

The same rude lack of respect sometimes exists even within a political party, as demonstrated in recent presidential candidate debates. The verbal warfare and character assassination being orchestrated by some on both sides of the political aisle, often aided and abetted by the national media, is most surely driving qualified and competent Americans away from pursuing public office.

Nor is existence of policy disagreement the cause of today’s strife. Policy disagreement can provide a meaningful basis for discussion, and respectful debate can bubble up new ideas for addressing critical issues. This process, first envisioned by our nation’s founders, has served our country well for almost 250 years.

Today, however, many of our nation’s so-called leaders respond to opposing viewpoints with visible contempt and derision, subverting any possibility of achieving mutually agreeable outcomes. And sadly, the contempt and derision are often accompanied by inexcusable personal attacks on the character and motives of those who disagree.

For example, those who oppose stricter gun laws are sometimes accused of caring more for guns than for children. Those calling for stricter gun laws are often accused of wanting to take guns away from law-abiding citizens while letting criminals keep theirs. When legislators publicly use these words to describe those with opposing views, there is no hope for meaningful discussion between the two sides.

I have no doubt both sides would like to reduce gun violence and that neither believes the other side loves guns more than kids or wants criminals and not law-abiding citizens to have guns. But the words get used nevertheless as weapons to stir up the citizenry for political purpose.

I’ve used the gun control debate to make a point, but the same contempt and political vitriol is evident in almost every national debate, whether it’s about birth control, managing our borders, economic issues or foreign policy. It seems that whatever policy one party espouses, the other is in immediate opposition.

Based upon the behavior of those in the race for the presidency, I’m not optimistic that whoever is sworn into office in 2021 will be able to unite our nation, whatever their policy positions. Unfortunately, leaders of the House and Senate have not exhibited the resolve or strength of character that is required, either. In my judgement, it is going to take a peaceful rebellion by America’s citizens to effect the change that is required.

While local citizens have little impact on what happens in Washington, we can practice being respectful of those whose opinions differ from ours. Letters to the editor that express views about local or national issues should stick to policy instead of attacking individuals, and those who respond should avoid angry and accusatory rebuttals.

Lastly, to the extent that policy makers from local government or school district respond, they ought to refrain from attempting to undermine the credibility of those who question their policies. We can all do better, and should.

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.

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